Get off Florida’s Turnpike at Exit 193 and you’ll see the remnants of a faded out billboard that once welcomed travelers to Yeehaw Junction. Just a few years ago, the sign was vibrant with colorful depictions of a beach, a Space Shuttle and a smiling, sunglasses-wearing Mr. Sunshine.
The billboard never made much sense. The nearest beach is over 30 miles from Yeehaw Junction and there are no real ties to the space industry.
Head west and you’ll encounter the only landmark in Yeehaw Junction. It’s the only notable landmark for dozens and dozens of miles in this flat swampy wilderness.
Standing at the crossroads of State Road 60 and U.S. Highway 441 is a building that looks like it would be more at home in the western towns of Route 66. The large neon sign on the front of the building comes into view. It boasts: “Desert Inn. Motel. Good Food. Bar.”
With its funky-shaped arches, haphazard-like construction and weathered cowboy murals, the Desert Inn looks much as it has for generations. It started off as a trading post in the late 1880s. The building you see dates before 1925 and served as a trading post and watering hole for cattle drovers and lumber workers during a time when this part of Osceola County was undeveloped wilderness.
Patrons included cowboys, traveling businessmen, Seminole Indians, traders and moonshiners. With the development of roads and more automobile traffic in the 1930s, the junction became known as Jackass Crossing. Day laborers and truckers would pony up to the Inn’s wooden U-shaped bar for good conversation and libations. Many of the men would then head upstairs to the bordello where they could “relax” after a long day.
Rooms were constructed behind the main building to give weary travelers a clean place to stay overnight.
When the Turnpike was put in during the 1950s, government officials didn’t want to offend tourists with the name Jackass Crossing and the community’s name was changed to Yeehaw Junction.
But not much changed with the Desert Inn. While the property has been through several owners over the years, the overall look and feel of the building has remained intact. Many old-timers still stop in for a cup of joe or a burger and reminisce with staff about the good ole’ days.
The bordello stopped providing services in the 1970s. During the same decade, the Desert Inn finally got electricity and running water.
If you’re traveling the Turnpike, it’s still a good place to stop for a while and stretch your legs. Under new ownership, the food (and conversation) is better than ever. For a mere $45 plus a key deposit, you can still spend the night and soak up the uniqueness of this classic piece of Florida history.